A long time ago (when I was still at university), I was doing a cryptic crossword with a friend. The clue was something about Jews and Arabs. We puzzled over it. Triumphantly, I shouted the answer: “Semite!”
“Arabs aren’t Semites!” said my friend, who happened to be Jewish.
“Go back and read the Old Testament again,” I said. “Remember all that stuff about Abraham having a son called Ishmael with Hagar? Ishmael, the one from whom the Arabs were descended?”
[In fact, the traditions differ somewhat, with the Jews and Christians believing that Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac, and the Muslims believing that Abraham (Ibrahim) was asked to sacrifice Ishmael.]
“Well, how come some Arabs are anti-Jewish and some Jews are anti-Arab?” asked my friend. “Does this mean that they’re both being anti-Semitic?”
Anyway, I just looked up “Semite” in the dictionary, and yes, I was correct. It can be used to refer to Jewish people, but it can also refer to the Akkadians, the Canaanites, the Phoenicians and the Arabs. It is derived from “Shem” (as in the first son of Noah), because all these peoples are believed to have descended from Shem.
I thought of this when I read about Professor Raphael Israeli’s recent comments that Muslim immigration should be limited and that Muslims are intrinsically violent. I am glad to see that the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council has dropped its support for Professor Israeli. Such comments are divisive, unhelpful and inaccurate.
I also thought of this when I looked at the anti-Jewish comments on the “Mission Islam” website for a previous post and Sheikh Feiz Mohammed’s comments on Jews for another post. As I have noted elsewhere, Hamas and Hezbollah use the so-called “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” as “proof” that there is a Zionist conspiracy to control the world.
All this stuff has its antecedents in white supremacism. Professor Israeli’s comments are precisely the sort of attitude that Jews had to fight against for generations in Europe and elsewhere – the sort of attitudes that led to the Holocaust and to the slaughter of millions of Jews. By the same token, it lies ill in the mouths of radical Muslims to complain about “Islamophobia” if they use and advocate “Judaeophobia” in their own writings and works.
If I were a Jew or a Muslim, I’d be very wary of taking on board these kind of notions. Why? Well, the genesis of these ideas comes from white supremacy, according which neither Jews nor Muslims are acceptable. Adolf Hitler would say that they all should be eradicated. After all, there’s so much in common between Jews and Muslims:
- Both refuse to eat pork, and require meat to be ritually slaughtered;
- The men wear skull caps when at in holy places;
- Both have religious laws developed by religious scholars (Jewish: halakah; Muslim: hadith);
- Both say “Shalom” or “Salaam” in greeting;
- Both forbid idols and religious iconography; and
- Both share many of the same prophets and holy places. In fact, they come from the same area.
- Both openly admit in their histories that they are related.
Interestingly, Irfan Yusuf noted in a post that one of Mohammed’s wives, Safiyya, was Jewish, and Mohammed criticised another of his wives for being cruel to her on this basis.
When adopting ideas that have their origins in white supremacism, Jews and Muslims risk giving those ideals legitimacy…and allowing third parties to use those ideas successfully against their own people. Imagine if a Ku Klux Klan leader saw Professor Israeli’s comments: “Yeah, he’s exactly right…let’s stop any of them getting in, Jews and Muslims!” Or a right wing shock jock saying people should be violent towards Muslims – after all, that’s the sort of behaviour Sheikh Mohammed recommends towards Jews and Christians.
Maybe everyone should think about the ethic of reciprocity for a few moments: do unto others as you would have them do to you! It’s a fundamental tenet of Judaism and Islam, not to mention Christianity and many other religions.
Looking in Wikipedia, I found various interesting expressions of the ethic of reciprocity.
Torah/Old Testament, Leviticus 19:18:
“Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.”
Hillel the Elder, Talmud, Shabbat 31a:
“A certain heathen came to Shammai and said to him, “Make me a proselyte, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah in the time I can stand on one foot.” Thereupon he repulsed him with the rod which was in his hand. When he went to Hillel, Hillel said to him, ‘What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah; all the rest of it is commentary; go and learn.”
Mohammed in the hadith:
“None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.”
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
The Mahabhrata (5:15:17):
“This is the sum of duty; do naught onto others what you would not have them do unto you.”
And some other wise fellows agree…
“What you do not wish upon yourself, extend not to others.”
“We should bear ourselves toward others as we would desire they should bear themselves toward us.”
“May I do to others as I would that they should do unto me.”
“What stirs your anger when done to you by others, that do not do to others.”
Seneca the Younger, Epistulae morales ad Lucilium 47:11:
“Treat your inferiors as you would be treated by your superiors.”